Learn from people who’ve shrunk their footprint.
IN the last three years, Alan Cuthbertson has halved his family’s consumption of electricity, water and gas. Next weekend, he’ll open his door to the public at large, and reveal the tips and tactics that have made all the difference.
The family’s Lower Plenty home will be part of Sustainable House Day on Sunday, September 12.
It will be one of about 180 houses on show throughout Australia for the free event, including 50 in Victoria and 12 in Melbourne. The homes will be open from 10 am to 4 pm.
The event’s coordinator, Judy Celmins, says the residences range from those with simple, low-cost alterations, right through to new dwellings complete with every imaginable innovation. Details of the homes are available on both the Sustainable House Day and shmeco websites.
Ms Celmins says visitors find it invaluable to see first hand the way people have altered their homes, and ask them how they did it. “Whatever stage you’re at, you can learn something,” she says. “It’s our ninth year and even the people who come every year say they always learn something new.”
Mr Cuthbertson and his family have been living in the same house for two decades, but only began retrofitting in the last few years – prompted by their daughter, who was then completing her engineering degree.
“We had lots of discussions about climate change and it convinced me that we should be doing something,” he says.
His message for visitors is that it’s not difficult to make improvements. “It’s not something you do overnight, but you just keep working on it.”
The Cuthbertsons have ticked off all the usual retrofitting measures, such as thorough ceiling insulation and draught sealing around windows and doors. They’ve also stopped the gaps left inside the kitchen cabinetry and around skylights.
By way of big-ticket technology, they’ve installed solar photovoltaic panels, a solar hot water system and a large water tank that fills from a collection point in the stormwater drain.
When their old central heating system needed to be replaced, they paid an extra $2000 for an efficient model that could heat in zones. “We only heat the core of the house and turn on the other rooms as we need them. That’s made a big difference,” he says.
Mr Cuthbertson is a computer programmer, and a tinkerer, so visitors will also be privy to a number of his nifty innovations, including a mirror that reflects sunlight inside during winter and a retractable blind over the clothesline that lets the washing dry on rainy days.
He’s also done some DIY double-glazing, and fitted cardboard pelmets that rest between the curtain rail and the architrave. “It’s a nice solution – they’re effective and a lot cheaper than putting on proper pelmets,” he says. “I’ve been concentrating on things that don’t cost a lot but give a reasonable return.”
A series of eight temperature sensors around the home feeds data into Mr Cuthbertson’s computer, informing him about the efficacy of the changes he’s made.
“I’ve put in a bit of effort and achieved a fifty per cent reduction in energy and water use, so I feel the politicians are selling us short on climate change,” he says. “There’s nothing special about what we’ve done. It’s all applicable to other homes.”